South Africa v Australia: Morkel, Rabada and Philander v Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins

A tantalising series awaits as the second and third-best Test sides, South Africa and Australia, gear up to face each other across four matches, live on Sky Sports Cricket from Thursday.

Both teams come into the series in sparkling form in red-ball cricket, with Steve Smith’s side having brushed aside England in the Ashes and the Proteas continuing their imperious home form with a 2-1 win over India.

Each side boasts a fearsome pace attack, with Australian captain Smith referring to his seam bowlers as “the big three”.

Here, Sky Sports Cricket’s Kalika Mehta looks at the bowlers set to play a big part in the series…

S Africa vs Australia

March 1, 2018, 7:55am

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SOUTH AFRICA

Morne Morkel

The veteran seam bowler announced his retirement from all forms of international cricket following the completion of series against Australia and the well-deserved plaudits followed in their droves.

Morkel picked up 13 wickets during South Africa’s most recent series against India, seeing his more recent efforts of consistently bowling a fuller length come to fruition.

Though the 33-year-old has often flown under the radar in the Proteas’ side and didn’t play a part in their victory over the Baggy Greens down under in 2016, he’ll be looking to sign off his South Africa career on a high.

Vernon Philander

When the right-armer burst onto the scene in 2011 he looked a genuine partner-in-crime for Dale Steyn – and he proved his worth when became the fastest bowler to take 100 Test wickets in over 100 years.

The 32-year-old was instrumental in South Africa’s victory in Australia in 2016, taking a memorable five-wicket haul in the first innings of the second Test in Hobart as the hosts were bowled for 85.

Though Philander has struggled somewhat in more recent times, he remains destructive in home conditions and dismantled India’s batting line-up in a dominant display in Cape Town, finishing as the leading wicket-taker in the series.

Looking back to full fitness, he is the spearhead of the hosts’ attack in the absence of Steyn.

Kagiso Rabada

It is easy to forget that the third prong of South Africa’s attack is just 22 years old, especially since he has already picked up an impressive 120 Test wickets.

Rabada’s pace, unerring accuracy and consistency in testing batsmen has put him at the forefront of the Proteas’ attack, keeping the pressure up on the opposition batsmen with his lengthy bowling spells.

He goes into the series in brilliant form, having picked up 57 wickets in 2017 – second behind Nathan Lyon’s 63. The visitors will be wary of top-order collapses at the hands of the youngster.

Mark Butcher feels Australia's bowling attack will shade South Africa's in the sides' four-Test series, live on Sky Sports

AUSTRALIA

Mitchell Starc

The first spike of “the big three”, Starc has surprisingly never played a Test match in South Africa, having been ruled out of the previous two series through injury and lack of selection.

In the warm-up match ahead of this Test series, the 28-year-old came away with a five-wicket haul following a brilliantly hostile spell, using the uneven bounce to his advantage and batsmen quaking as he sent down bouncer after bouncer.

Though at times there are fears over fitness – Starc was well below-par in the final Ashes Test against England having pushed himself to return quickly from an ankle injury – the left-armer has become one of the best bowlers around and will be looking to leave his mark in Africa.

Josh Hazlewood

Consistency has been the cornerstone of Australia’s unerringly accurate and devastating pace attack, with Hazlewood at the crux of the barrage opening batsmen face when first at the crease.

The 27-year-old’s precision and delicate movement off the pitch provide plenty of difficulties and he took 21 wickets and sent down 49 maidens during a successful Ashes outing.

Hashim Amla, in particular, will be cautious against the New South Wales seamer, who dismissed the South African batsman five times during the last series between the two sides.

Pat Cummins

As an 18-year-old, Cummins announced himself on the international scene as he took 6-79 against South Africa on debut.

He showcased the brilliant mix of swing, pace, seam and bounce and though injuries have seen his international career become stop-start since, Cummins now looks back to his best.

A constant first-change threat, the 25-year-old will be aiming to reopen the wounds he created seven years ago and build on being the highest-wicket taker in the 2017/18 Ashes, with 23 across the five Tests against England.

WHAT ABOUT STEYN?

The six seamers above could have a chess-like battle, but the continued absence of Dale Steyn remains a disappointment for cricket fans everywhere.

As the 34-year-old continues to recover from a heel injury he picked up during the series against India, he could well be in line for a return in the third Test, though it might be hard to dislodge Morkel, Philander or Rabada.

Steyn is just three wickets away from overtaking Shaun Pollock as South Africa’s all-time leading wicket-taker and if he is able to prove his fitness, he will surely be given the opportunity to claim that mantle in the twilight of his Test career.

Watch South Africa and Australia’s four-Test series live on Sky Sports Cricket, starting with the opener in Durban from 7.55am on Thursday.

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